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2019 best tech startups in Montana, Montana's SBDC network supports 500 Montana jobs, Simms Fishing named Montana Manufacturer of the Year, St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings receives Best Hospitals Award...


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Bitter cold. Bitter, not-so-sweet cold. Stay warm out there while we hit record lows across the state...and get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below.

2019 best tech startups in Montana

The Tech Tribune staff has compiled a list of the very best tech startups in Montana. During the research process, they considered several factors including but not limited to: revenue potential, leadership team, brand/product traction and competitive landscape. Additionally, all companies must be independent (un-acquired), privately owned, at most 10 years old, and have received at least one round of funding to qualify. Startups recognized include Schedulicity (hiring), Blackmore (hiring), onX (hiring), Submittable (hiring), Pulsara (hiring), Quiq (hiring), Ascent Vision, AdvicePay, CrossTx (hiring) and The Audience Awards. [Tech Tribune]

Montana’s Small Business Development Center network supports 500 Montana jobs, launches 58 businesses in 2018

Montana’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network, headquartered at the Department of Commerce in Helena, recently released its 2018 Annual Report showing it supported the creation or retention of nearly 500 Montana jobs in 2018 through its work to assist small businesses with growth and development. Additionally, the report also found the SBDC network supported Montana entrepreneurs in successfully launching 58 new businesses. “Montana inspires innovation, and entrepreneurs across the state launch or grow businesses every day,” said Daniel Iverson, Department of Commerce communications manager. “For our Small Business Development Centers to support 60 new and hundreds of existing businesses in a single year is a great success to reflect on and further strengthens Montana’s economy.” [Independent Record]

Simms Fishing Products named the 2018 Montana Manufacturer of the Year

Last week, Bozeman-based Simms Fishing Products (hiring) was named the 2018 Montana Manufacturer of the Year by the Montana Manufacturing Association (MMA), a subsidiary of the Montana Chamber of Commerce. “We are honored to receive this award and represent our manufacturing community – in Montana and nationally,” said Casey Sheahan, CEO of Simms Fishing Products. “While premium materials and closely guarded construction methods play a large role in the creation of our waders, it’s the people behind them that make them the best waders in the world. Because of our wader makers and our Montana manufacturing facility, we are able to champion careers in manufacturing and be a strong partner in our community.” Additionally, for the first time, the MMA is recognizing two additional companies with Honorable Mention awards: Marks Lumber in Clancy and Ascent Vision Technologies in Belgrade. Marks Lumber has specialty forest products including timbers, rough-sawn boards, circle-sawn flooring and natural wood siding products. Ascent specializes in gyro-stabilized imaging systems and fully integrated solutions for Counter Drone Operations, ISR Missions and defense applications. Marks Lumber rated the highest in environmental excellence and safety, while Ascent scored the highest in market share/growth of the company. [Montana Chamber of Commerce]

St. Vincent Healthcare named one of Healthgrades 2019 America’s 250 Best Hospitals

St. Vincent Healthcare (hiring) has received the Healthgrades 2019 America’s 250 Best Hospitals Award. The distinction places St. Vincent Healthcare in the top 5 percent of more than 4,500 hospitals assessed nationwide for its superior clinical performance as measured by Healthgrades, the leading online resource for comprehensive information about physicians and hospitals. According to a press release from St. Vincent Healthcare, in addition to the recognition as one of America’s 250 Best Hospitals, St. Vincent Healthcare was recognized by Healthgrades in 18 other categories, including: America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Spine Surgery, America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Critical Care, Outstanding Patient Experience Award and Nine Five-Star Treatment Awards. [Billings Gazette]

Gabe Lapito of Strategic Retirement Plans honored in Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors List

Strategic Retirement Plans, a wealth management firm in Billings, Montana, recently announced that its Owner/Financial Advisor, Gabe E. Lapito, MBA, CPA/PFS, CFP®, AIF® , has been named to Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors list for 2019. According to Lapito, “Every day at Strategic Retirement Plans our team strives to be stewards of our clients’ complete retirement, and to be recognized by the likes of Forbes is a great honor we do not take lightly. We are thrilled to accept this award and use it as motivation to continue our pursuit to provide holistic financial services in a compassionate and professional way every day!” The 2019 ranking of the Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors list was developed by SHOOK Research and is based on in-person and telephone due-diligence meetings to evaluate each advisor qualitatively and on a ranking algorithm that includes client retention, industry experience, review of compliance records, firm nominations, and quantitative criteria (including assets under management and revenue generated for their firms). Overall, 30,000 advisors were considered, and 3,500 (11.6 percent of candidates) were recognized. [Strategic Retirement Plans]

Figure Technologies, Inc. raises $65 million in series B funding to fuel continued lending and blockchain growth

Figure Technologies, Inc. (hiring in Montana), a leading fintech company in both the home equity and blockchain space, recently announced a $65 million in series B equity funding. This brings Figure's total equity funding to more than $120 million as it starts its second year of operations. Led by RPM Ventures and partners at DST Global, with participation from investors Ribbit Capital, DCM, DCG, Nimble Ventures, Morgan Creek and others, this round of financing will help Figure bolster its product offering and continue to support growth. "We are encouraged by what we've accomplished in our first year, and this investment validates Figure's market potential," said Mike Cagney, co-founder and CEO at Figure. Figure is headquartered in San Francisco but has Montana offices in Helena and Bozeman (where the company is actively hiring top tech talent), as well as Reno, Nevada. [PR Newswire]

Bozeman airport moving ahead on expansion project

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (hiring) is moving ahead with plans to add four gates, a third restaurant inside security, more retail stores and space for future expanded outbound baggage handling. The Gallatin County Airport Authority Board approved the expansion last month, saying it would add about 70,000 square feet to the concourse and cost about $27 million, which includes additional passenger boarding bridges and the expanded terminal apron to serve more airplanes. The Bozeman airport is expected to hit a 1.5 million passenger threshold this year, according to the release. The expansion aims to keep up with the traffic. Martel Construction (hiring), the company handling the improvements, estimates more than 500 Montana jobs would be created during the project. Construction is expected to begin in late March. The airport estimates that the project will be completed in time for peak summer traffic in 2020. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle]

New kind of primary care clinic set to open in Billings

Cole Whitmoyer, a nurse practitioner in Billings, plans to open the doors of Flex Family Health Direct Primary Care next month. The membership-based clinic, where patients pay a monthly fee, gives them access to unlimited visits, phone access and telemedicine, and reduced prices on labs and imaging. What makes it unique is that Whitmoyer’s clinic will accept no insurance of any kind. Rather, the clinic will charge $59 a month for adults ages 18-64 and $79 for people 65 and older. Parents who are signed up can add a dependent child age two or older for $25. Patients get an unlimited number of visits that can last from 20 to 60 minutes. They also have cell phone and telemedicine access to Whitmoyer, reduced-priced and mail-order prescriptions and reduced or no-cost lab tests. He’s the first direct primary care clinic in Billings. Others have opened in Missoula, Polson and Kalispell and another one is opening up in April in Bozeman. [Billings Gazette]

Manufacturer (in Victor and Hamilton) wants to keep global footprint in Montana

Recently, John Huffman, the general manager of Vesta, a successful manufacturing and shipping operation of medical devices with facilities in the Victor area and in Hamilton, made a presentation to the Hamilton City Council about the difficulties involved in operating a growing business in the valley and how those problems are compounded when the company operates on a global scale. Vesta is a medical device manufacturing business specializing in silicone processing technologies. It offers design and process assistance to some major companies including Johnson & Johnson, Avid and Aeolian Electric. Its facilities in the Victor area and in Hamilton are FDA registered facilities and meet the certification requirements for producing medical devices. Describing the history of the company, Huffman shared that the company had modest beginnings in a 15,000-square-foot facility off Highway 93 near Woodside, then expanded to an additional 8,000-square-foot facility in Hamilton in 2006. In 2011, the company was purchased by Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Vesta, which was subsequently acquired by Lubrizol (a business owned by Berkshire-Hathaway and headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio).  Today, the company employees 80 people in Montana. Now owned by a global company with manufacturing locations across the U.S. and in Asia and South America, Huffman shared that operations in Montana are facing some difficult obstacles if they want to continue to be a growing asset - the biggest being simply the cost of expanding their facility base here. Huffman shared specific examples of the global company making expansions elsewhere to cut costs. He did so not as a “sob story,” but rather to ask the council “for your continuing support and, in that, to offer ideas and potential solutions regarding infrastructure in Ravalli County.” Huffman further said, “We want to stay here and continue to grow and offer more Montana jobs, but we can see the direction the company is going.” [Bitterroot Star]

Missoula Marriott receives loan to train new employees for Montana jobs with benefits

The new Marriott Hotel in downtown Missoula will receive a $780,000 loan to train workers for jobs plush with benefits and to complete the hotel’s construction. MoFi (hiring), a non-bank lender based in Missoula, received funding from the federal Office of Community Services and will award it as a below-market loan to Mercantile Investors LLC. “It leverages federal funds to provide long-lasting, high-quality jobs with benefits and retirement plans,” said Dave Glaser, president of MoFi. “With that comes the opportunity for these individuals to increase wealth, gain self-sufficiency and improve the livelihood of their families and our community.” The hotel’s Bozeman-based developer broke ground in Missoula on the Residence Inn by Marriott in 2017 and is now completing the $41 million project. A soft opening is set for Thursday, March 7, followed by a public opening on the weekend. Project developer Andy Holloran said the new Marriott will employ around 40 people. “The tourist economy is growing in Montana, and we’re very excited to link arms with local employment and job training organizations, and invest in a project that promotes quality, sustainable jobs for Montana workers,” Holloran said. Under the loan, the hotel is expected to fill the majority of its new jobs with those who need them most. The positions will offer comprehensive benefits including health, paid time off and retirement. [KPAX]

UM gets $730K federal grant to boost rural, tribal economic development

Montana's rural and tribal areas struggle to grow their economies at the same pace as urban areas, with federal data showing just five counties accounting for three-quarters of the state's job growth for the first 16 years of this century. In an effort to combat that problem, the University of Montana has recently been awarded a $730,000 federal grant to fund efforts to boost economic development in the state's less-populated areas. The five-year grant comes from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s 2018 University Center Economic Development Program. The money will be used to fund efforts to help distressed rural and tribal communities by developing sustainable, high-growth entrepreneurial activity. Paul Gladen, the director of Accelerate Montana and the Blackstone LaunchPad at UM, has been chosen to lead a new center created by the grant. The new facility will be called the UM Center for Rural Economic Development. It will be used to “broaden the reach” of Accelerate Montana, which is designed to help state businesses succeed from the idea stage onward. The new center will work with economic development organizations and partners in Montana to perform a needs and asset assessment of service regions, according to Gladen. [Billings Gazette]

Innovation from local Billings startup Tellerus Corporation promises oil field savings

It’s been 12 years in the making, but now a local Billings start-up company stands on the verge of national recognition for their achievement. Tellerus Corporation has been named as a finalist for the 2019 National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) Corrosion Innovation Award - an international competition for an innovation that holds the promise of saving millions of dollars for oilfield production operations. Tellerus, headed by sole proprietor Paul Tarmann, has patented a unique, continuous feed, in-line chemical mixing tool that he has spent years perfecting and testing. The mixer not only reduces chemical usage by 40 to 80 percent but has proven to extend the life of downhole pumps. Much of the past 12 years was necessary to demonstrate that the tool would indeed extend the life of a pump. Pumps with which it is being used for companies in Central Montana have been operating now for more than ten years, proving Tarmann’s forecasts. Tarmann is excited about being nominated for the NACE award and enthusiastically vows to remain a Billings-based company. [Big Sky Business Journal]

Hardin coal-fired power plant sells to possible cryptocurrency company

Hardin’s troubled coal-fired power plant has found a buyer. The Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission approved plans by Rocky Mountain Power to sell the 107 megawatt power plant to Big Horn Datapower Holdings LLC. Little is known about Big Horn Datapower Holdings, which isn’t registered as a corporation in Montana. However, its name suggests it's among the cryptocurrency businesses that were interested in buying the power plant. According to City Council minutes, 50 to 60 Montana jobs could be created in the process. [Billings Gazette]

Bozeman community-based organization HRDC receives funding through the Citi Foundation and LISC to help train workers for growing job sectors

The Citi Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) today announced new funding through the Bridges to Career Opportunities initiative (Bridges) to help connect unemployed and underemployed people in Bozeman and Livingston to quality Montana jobs in growth industries. Human Resources Development Council of District IX has been awarded $190,000 and technical support to provide services that help Montana job seekers increase their incomes, improve their credit and raise their standards of living. Services include skills training and career development, as well as personal finance coaching, continuing education courses (to strengthen math and reading skills) and resources to help job seekers secure transportation, childcare and housing arrangements, which can be impediments to career mobility. "Getting our local workforce properly trained and supported in their efforts to advance their own lives and careers is one of the most important things we can do for our communities," said Brit Fontenot, the director of economic development for the City of Bozeman, who said education and workforce development are among the pillars of the city's economic development strategy. [PR Newswire]